Ruth Duckworth, an innovative modernist sculptor, passed away last month at the age of 90. Although one can identify influences such as Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi in her work, Duckworth’s novel use of clay as a sculptural medium radically contributed to widespread sculptural practice. Ceramist Tony Franks recalls, “Ceramics studios across Britain were soon bursting with pinched porcelain fungi and swelling stoneware fruits. Organic clay had arrived like a harvest festival, and would remain firmly in place well into the ’70s.” Duckworth’s abstract forms, evocative of the natural world, range from the diminutive to monumental, totemic structures. MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. boasts such a Duckworth piece.
Photo credit: MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Nearly five feet in height, this sculpture, constructed from ceramic stoneware and mixed media, has recently been restored to museum-quality condition. Suitable for a museum collection, the sculpture embodies Duckworth’s emblematic explorations of the figure in abstract form. Though the form is suggestive of a spinal column with radiating vertebrae, the piece is most accurately placed within the stylistic realm of abstract art. "Such whimsical associations are the heart and soul of Duckworth's art, in which simple shapes invite whimsical stories and embrace the sensual side of a very gentle Surrealism," explains art critic David Pagel. In fact, Duckworth refrained from overtly explaining her art in terms of subject matter; she allowed “people to have their own fantasy or ideas about it, and not mine," Duckworth explained in a CBS interview.
It is interesting to note, however, that while Duckworth’s stylistic traits are that of an abstract modernist, her process itself at times constituted studying specific, concrete subject matter; Duckworth studied topographical images of Mt. Fuji and satellite photos of the earth for her suite of murals Earth, Water and Sky, a 400-square-foot stoneware mural, located in the University of Chicago’s Geophysical Sciences Building.
Photo credit: The Minneapolis Museum of Art
Her use of repeated, concentric circles moves the piece from aerial perspectives of landscape to geometric, abstracted forms.
Born in Germany in 1919, Duckworth began her career as a stone mason. As she developed her skills as a sculptor, she made use of stone, porcelain and bronze. Duckworth studied at the Hammersmith art school and the Central School of Art and Crafts. In 1964, she accepted a teaching post at the University of Chicago’s Midway studio, where she stayed until the late 70’s. She later converted two floors of a former pickle factory on Chicago’s north side for use as her home and studio; she removed a portion of the second floor such that she could view her murals in progress from an aerial perspective.
Photo credit: Ceramic Review
Ceramist Emmanuel Cooper commented with reverence, “She was a great original, pioneering her own path within ceramics, brilliantly exploring the idea of the figure, the vessel and the more abstract form.”
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To witness a Duckworth sculpture in person is a dramatic experience indeed; to view the Duckworth piece at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 814-8510 or view it on the MIR Gallery website.
Toutillot, Suzanne J. E. Masters: Porcelain: Major Works by Leading Ceramists. New York, Lark 2008.